Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Investing in Brain Drain

Waverly IowaImage via Wikipedia

A new book, called Hollowing Out the Middle: Why America's Small Towns are Dying and What Can be Done to Save Them by Patrick Carr and Maria Kefalas, looks at what is left behind after brain drain occurs.

The authors spent 18 months living in a small Iowa town to better understand the causes and effects of brain drain on rural communities. Their findings show that Iowa is investing tax dollars and have policies in place that encourage the best and brightest young people to leave the state.

They discovered that in spite of being hit hard by the loss of talented young people, these small towns put enormous resources and energy into encouraging them to go. Motivated by the best of intentions, they watch those who are most likely to succeed leave to make their fortunes elsewhere. But while bemoaning the fact that young people are their most valuable export, they invest little to nothing in the young people who choose to stay behind. And it is those young people who are their best chance for a future.

Talented people have always left small towns for bigger cities and brighter opportunities. But at the dawn of the twenty-first century the loss of educated young adults could spell the end of small-town America. Maria Kefalas and Patrick Carr suggest that there are signs of hope for the future of the rural town, but that it is a future that will look very different from the present.

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